When Mark Gill signed on as president of Nu Image’s Millennium Films division in July 2011, many people in Hollywood scratched their heads. The production company known for its meat-and-potatoes action fare seemed like an odd fit for the former Miramax L.A. and Warner Independent Films president.
But Gill was eager for a fresh start following the collapse of the Film Department, where, as CEO and co-founder, he had produced the hit thriller “Law Abiding Citizen” before running into financial difficulties. And Nu Image co-founder and chairman Avi Lerner said all the right things.
“He said, ‘I want to upgrade and I need somebody to come in and help make that happen,'” Gill recalls. “Unlike my Warner Bros. experience, where they said they really wanted to shake things up, here, they actually meant it.”
The company, which made millions on straight-to-video fare in its early days, was already greenlighting more ambitious projects, such as the upcoming “Playing for Keeps,” directed by Gabriele Muccino (“The Pursuit of Happyness,” “Seven Pounds”). Gill’s hire signified a deeper commitment to those projects.
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Not everyone was convinced. When Gill put out the word he was looking for prestige projects, “there were several people who said, ‘Gee, I don’t know about that,’ and I said, ‘Look. I bet my career on it. You can bet one script on it.'”
Are the Nu Image founders, infamous as brash, crass, bottom-line dealmakers who scoff at artistic ambition, trying to Miramax the place?
“Just a touch,” Gill says. “Once or twice a year, we’ll do a prestige movie, like ‘The Iceman’ and ‘The Paperboy’ for very moderate budgets so you don’t get hurt too badly if they don’t work out. The rest of the time, let’s try to do a great thriller that, in your fantasies, is as good as ‘The French Connection.'”
“The main thing that I get from Mark is support on the creative part,” Lerner says. “Mark is very knowledgeable about where to get the script, director, cast — all the rest. I don’t have this expertise.”
“Olympus Has Fallen,” an upcoming Antoine Fuqua project starring Gerard Butler and Morgan Freeman, centers on a Secret Service agent trying to thwart a takeover of the White House.
“You think it’s just ‘Die Hard in the White House,’ but when you read the script, it’s surprisingly astute about Washington,” Gill says.
“Olympus” is not due in theaters until 2014. In the meantime, Millennium has “Playing for Keeps” (Dec. 7), “Texas Chainsaw 3D” (Jan. 13) and “The Big Wedding” (April), starring Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton. It’s planning a Sundance bow for the biopic “Lovelace,” toplining Amanda Seyfried.
Company also recently acquired the spec “Cold Warriors,” an action-comedy in the vein of “Midnight Run.”
“Usually, those sort of genre movies are very poorly written and then you try to fix the script,” Gill says.
Not this one, he adds. Within two days of its purchase, “we were already trying to get it cast.”
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